Clothes with a Heart

It’s a well-worn cliche but for Jenny Hwa, the Raleigh-based designer behind the newly re-launched sustainable women’s clothing company Loyale, quality really is more important than quantity.

Hwa’s two-style collection became available for purchase online this summer at loyalestudio.com. Hwa says instead of driving sales, she’s currently more focused on reaching her potential customers via social media, a monthly newsletter, and a journal chronicling the production process from start to finish. Hwa hopes her two silhouettes (a ballerina T-shirt and a boat-neck tunic, each available in black or in gray-and-white stripes) will sell well, of course, but her main goal is to build an audience that shares her company’s commitment to ethical, sustainable consumer practices. She wants her customers’ feedback to guide the future of the Loyale brand and not the other way around.

“It’s counter-intuitive; most companies want to sell a lot of garments,” Hwa says. “But we would prefer you shop less. There’s real pressure in society that you continuously update your wardrobe. That’s why we didn’t design elaborate pieces; ours are really classic. It’s important that what you’re buying from us matches stuff you already have.”

A native of the Bay area, Hwa moved east to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology after earning an undergraduate degree in business. While living in Manhattan and working full-time with companies such as Armani and Calypso St. Barth’s, Hwa launched what she refers to as Loyale 1.0, in 2005. For five years, Hwa enjoyed successful collections but, due to mounting overhead costs in New York, she decided to move to North Carolina where she thought she’d find a burgeoning textile industry.

It took Hwa a little longer than she anticipated to find her footing down south.

“Textile mills and cut-and-sew factories were actually on the decline,” Hwa says. “There was a lack of skilled workers who knew how to manage sewing machines and do finishes and trims. I was trying to find fabric manufacturers and the facilities to sew garments, and I went down a lot of different paths that led to nowhere, unfortunately.”

Through a mixture of serendipity and old-fashioned perseverance, Hwa eventually connected with Opportunity Threads, a worker-owned co-op based in Burke County in western North Carolina. Hwa says the nonprofit’s emphasis on its own community of skilled workers, as well as on environmentally-friendly production practices, made it the perfect partner for Loyale to align with. Hwa personally knows the two workers—Alfonso and Eulusia—who sew each of Loyale’s garments, and she takes a hands-on approach to production at the Appalachian facility, which she documents on Loyale’s Instagram page.

Additionally, Hwa learned, she needed to source fabrics from Japanese textile mills with state-of-the-art technology and high-integrity fibers to satisfy her standards for quality, drape, wearability and longevity of the designs.

“While we wanted to have a completely locally-sourced product, we’re not going to make something that’s going to disappoint people later on,” Hwa says. “I worked with these Japanese mills almost exclusively with Loyale 1.0, and the sustainable practices at these facilities are more on the up-and-up than those you’d find in the U.S.”

Hwa acknowledges that it takes a certain kind of customer to pay $90 or $134 for a single garment. But, she says, that customer appreciates the high quality of the workmanship, timeless design, superior fabric and seasonal versatility of her pieces. This customer also shares her company’s ideological commitment to ethical, environmentally sound production practices and appreciates Loyale’s emphasis on philanthropy; for every garment sold, for instance, the company donates $2 to a nonprofit partner.

That said, says Hwa, Loyale has been exceeding its sales goals sine the re-launch and, although it ships to customers all over the world, Hwa is pleased with the level of engagement from customers based in the Southeast.

As for what’s next for Loyale, Hwa says she’ll be spending some time interacting with customers who are buying her clothes, subscribing to Loyale’s electronic newsletter, and following the company’s social media pages.

“Nothing’s set in concrete; it’s about feeling like there is a dialogue happening,” Hwa says. “It’s about consumers questioning their choices and making incremental changes in their lives. That’s where we’ll see the kind of progress we’re most committed to making.”

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